A growing number of Western officials are calling for an audit of the ballots cast in the Afghan presidential election, increasing the likelihood that the nation’s electoral commission will have to formally reassess the June 14 runoff vote even as it prepares to announce preliminary results due out on Monday.
Ever since Afghans voted in the runoff election, the system has been deadlocked by allegations of widespread fraud. The presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has consistently complained that his opponent, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, with the help of the commission and other Afghan officials, rigged the vote.
Mr. Abdullah has spent weeks threatening to walk away from the process. He has called the system illegitimate, staged protests and leaked numerous tapes purporting to show election officials conspiring to rig the election in favour of Mr. Ahmadzai.
Now Mr. Abdullah’s brinkmanship appears to be paying off. Despite their earlier efforts to avoid the appearance of involvement in the Afghan elections, some international figures have decided to take action, recognizing the potential that the political crisis has to turn violent and threaten long-term Western interests in Afghanistan.
On Sunday, U.S. Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, spoke to reporters in Kabul. Joined by the U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham, Mr. Levin raised the prospect of a dual announcement on Monday, in which Afghan officials would both release preliminary results and announce an audit that would be satisfactory to both candidates. Hours later, however, Mr. Abdullah pressed the commission to delay the release. fearful that any fraudulent figures could work against him. While there have been no official results, leaked reports suggested that Mr. Ahmadzai had reversed Mr. Abdullah’s lead from the first round and was ahead in the vote count.
It was unclear whether the election commission would go through with the release, as promised. The commission has so far delayed results on more than one occasion to help ease the political crisis.
Mr. Levin, who warned of dire consequences if the election did not proceed, was only the latest U.S. official to visit Kabul in the past few weeks. Ambassador James Dobbins, the retiring special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was recently in town to urge the candidates to stick with the process.
After Mr. Dobbins came two Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who encouraged a thorough audit and also made clear that U.S. aid for Afghanistan would almost certainly dry up if the political crisis was not resolved.
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